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Rick James: Street Songs

By Maximillian Muhammad

Before so-called Gangsta rap and being labeled from the streets, a record paved the way with straight-to-the-point reality. The writer, arranger, producer, musician, image-maker who hailed from the tough streets of Buffalo, NY released his personal Bible about life in the 'hood. "Super Freak" sent this Genius into the stratosphere...it became his media identity from rapper M.C. Hammer sampling it in "U Can't Touch This" to a ironic reference to troubles in his private life.

But back in '81 this song was punk meets funk. New wavy with the Temps singing background. That was Genius. "Give it to me Baby" with that bumping bass, horns hitting hard and that "whatcha say?" part still pumping in my head. "Fire & Desire" with Lady T. is beauty itself. Can old lovers rekindle the flames again? If only for the moment. No other duet from the 80s touches that spark. And that's the brilliance of this record: Doo-Woop, mixed with mackin', pimpin', player, street smarts and heart-breaker. The most honest cut is "Ghetto Life," which tells the truth about the 'hood and it ain't going no-where.

But the cut that leaves mouth's wagging...especially those who were stunned by N.W.A.'S "F*** tha Police" was "Mr. Policeman." It told of brutality and power, which nobody else was trying to tackle or discuss. In fact, his struggle and frankness was so real that back then hardly any record label wanted to even think of keeping it real, let alone acknowledge that aspect. Today it's cool to be from the 'hood in Hollywood. Rick was a trailblazer with "Street Songs."

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